Fight for Right: How did the evacuation of people with disabilities go?

Fight for Right: How did the evacuation of people with disabilities go?

Fight For Right, a public organisation of people with disabilities, presented a project about stories of evacuations of Ukrainians with disabilities. 15 stories were collected in an interactive map format with audio and interviews.

"In times of war and other disasters, the voices of people with disabilities are seldom heard, and the diversity of our experiences is overlooked. But it is through this lens that one can see another dimension of the war," say the authors of the project.

Svidomi, in collaboration with Fight for Right, tells the stories of people with disabilities and how they are affected by the war.

Project WARPATH is supported by the British Council under the UK/Ukraine Season of Culture.

"It started the same way as for our grandparents — at 5 in the morning"

Andrii Kachur is a professional athlete, a member of the Kharkiv para-armwrestling team, and a member of the Ukrainian National Para-armwrestling Team. The man has a physical disability.

Until February 24, 2022, Kachur lived in Kharkiv. He worked in IT and was preparing for the Ukrainian Para-Armwrestling Championship.

On the morning of February 24, 2022, Andrii was woken up by a call from a friend.

"Andrii, the war has begun! Come on, get ready quickly, go home, not even to Kyiv, but to your parents (they live in the Kirovohrad region — ed.)" I didn't believe him and went back to sleep. But my sleep wasn't long because I heard explosions, airplanes, mass hysteria on the street," Andrii Kachur says.

After talking with his coach, Andrii decided to evacuate. Although he was skeptical at first, as he thought the attacks would stop in a few days.

"At that time, there was information that saboteurs were scattering various dangerous things in Kharkiv. I left my apartment to go to the train station, and there was a black plastic bag in our building. I couldn't get around it. I thought that it would be fine. And then the wind blew, and I froze in fear. Then I realized it was just a plastic bag. When we were driving around the city, everything was on fire, and there were flashes of light," says Kachur.

Two days after the athlete left the city by train, Russians bombed the railroad track that he used. At home, Andrii became apathetic. He lost his job. It was hard for him to accept that his life had been changed by the war, that all the efforts and resources he had invested in his sports career had been wasted.

"I didn't want to be a burden to my parents, so I left," he says.

Andrii stayed with his parents for a month. All this time he was thinking about what to do next and eventually decided to go to the United States. From the refugee center closest to the border, he went to Warsaw. There, he bought tickets to Miami — it was a spontaneous decision.

"I had no one there. It was my dream, and I had nothing to lose," says Andrii Kachur.

There, the man found a community through sports. He continues to train with an arm wrestling team at a local sports club. He also works as a developer for a company that creates solutions for airlines.

"My neighbour called and said: "It has started!"

Nataliia Petrenko was born in the Chernihiv region. She is engaged in public activities, including fundraising and project coordination. She is raising a daughter. Nataliia has a hearing impairment. Until February 24, she lived in Kyiv with her daughter and worked for a charity that helps people with hearing impairments.

On the morning of February 24, Nataliia received a call from a friend who told her about the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. The friend suggested that she leave Kyiv. At the time, the situation did not seem so real to Nataliia, so she went out for coffee to dispel her panic.

"The city was in traffic jams. People were leaving en masse, and we were drinking coffee," says Nataliia Petrenko.

Nataliia and her daughter spent the night of February 25 in the shelter of a nearby school. "It was the most horrible night. After that night, we decided to leave the city," the woman continues.

On the evening of February 25, Nataliia, her daughter, and their cat joined her friend's family who were evacuating to Truskavets. "The road was difficult, because we went around other roads and villages. We did not expect to be on the road for so long," Nataliia says.

In Truskavets, they were placed in a sanatorium that had not been functioning for some time. The woman and her daughter were given a separate room.

"Emotionally, we were expecting that the next day everything would be over and we would return to Kyiv," Petrenko says.

But gradually, she began to realize that the war would not end soon. The news was getting worse and worse, the number of air raids was increasing, and children and animals were having a hard time with it.

At the same time, Nataliia's friend, with whom they had evacuated from Kyiv, offered to go with them to her mother-in-law in Germany. There, the woman faced another problem related to her hearing impairment.

"It's difficult to learn German because they have word endings that I can't hear well — these are voiceless sounds at high frequencies. That's why I was very nervous at the beginning because I know how difficult it is to study with a hearing impairment," Nataliia says.

The woman is trying to find the energy by volunteering at a refugee center and conducting workshops for children on making felt crafts.

"We had nowhere to hide"

The family of Nadiia and Oleksandr Voronevskyi lived in the village of Yuvileine, Oleshky district, Kherson region. They are raising three sons: Dmytro, Mykyta, and Denys. Dmytro and Mykyta have disabilities. They were engaged in the agriculture business.

On February 23, 2022, Oleksandr prepared agricultural products that he planned to take to the market for sale the next day. On the morning of February 24, a friend called and told him the invasion had started. The village of Yuvileine was occupied immediately.

"We saw troops, tanks, cars, armored personnel carriers passing through our village. We were left without electricity and water. The electricity was turned on only on March 8, like the holiday present. It was hard, not knowing any information," the family shares.

The family stayed under occupation for almost five months. For the first two weeks, no one left the village. The Voronevskys were the first to leave — they had to go to Kakhovka to buy food for the family and medicine for their eldest son, Dmytro.

Kakhovka has become gray and harrowing. "If you compare Kakhovka as it was and as it has become, it's scary: three o'clock in the afternoon and no one on the street. It was as if the city had died out," the couple says.

A black market for buying and selling cash in different currencies was already operating at that time. After a while, people began to adapt to the new reality. They moved around the region more often, and some went to Crimea to make purchases because there was no supply of goods to the occupied territory of the Kherson region. Despite this, Oleksandr and Nadiia suspended their agriculture business because it became impossible to sell their goods.

Toward the middle of summer, calls for evacuation from Ukrainian officials became more frequent. The couple still had doubts about evacuation.

"We thought everything would get better. We planted potatoes, we thought it would be enough. And that was it. But the food supply decreased, all the doctors left, and our shepherd got sick and died. Before that, Mykyta said he would not go anywhere without his friend. So that's how his friend let him go," says Oleksandr.

After that, Nadiia and Oleksandr finally decided to leave with their sons and nephew. They took few things because there was no room in the car.

"The main thing I took from home was some goose feather pillows and a bottle of honey," Oleksandr laughs.

On July 12, the Voronevskyi family left the occupied village of Yuvileine through Vasylivka (Zaporizhzhia region) to Zaporizhzhia. On the morning of July 13, they left for Kyiv. Then they traveled to Lviv, Przemyśl, and Hanover, where they stayed. Two days later, they moved to Munich. There they were sent to a refugee camp in Sindelfingen, Baden-Württemberg. A few days later, they were sent to another camp in Sigmaringen.

‍On September 15, the family moved to Biberach, where they stayed in a modular town.

Currently, the Voronevskyi family is working on the paperwork in Germany. They are waiting for language courses and the placement of their children in educational institutions.

And most of all, the family is waiting for Ukraine to win the Russian-Ukrainian war so that they can return home.

"We are already planning to return. We just can't be here, that's all. We want to go home. Even our youngest son (6 years old — ed.) says it's hard. This is our native land. Before that, we thought we were living badly, but we were living our best life," the family says.

Fight For Right has been working in the emergency response direction since the beginning of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war. On the website, you can see the evacuation route, read more about how it happened and what preceded it, and listen to excerpts from interviews.